The House with the Brick-Kiln by E. F. Benson
The hamlet of Trevor Major lies very lonely and sequestered in a
hollow below the north side of the south downs that stretch westward
from Lewes, and run parallel with the coast. It is a hamlet of some
three or four dozen inconsiderable houses and cottages much girt
about with trees, but the big Norman church and the manor house which
stands a little outside the village are evidence of a more
conspicuous past. This latter, except for a tenancy of rather less
than three weeks, now four years ago, has stood unoccupied since the
summer of 1896, and though it could be taken at a rent almost
comically small, it is highly improbable that either of its last
tenants, even if times were very bad, would think of passing a night
in it again. For myself--I was one of the tenants--I would far prefer
living in a workhouse to inhabiting those low-pitched oak-panelled
rooms, and I would sooner look from my garret windows on to the
squalor and grime of Whitechapel than from the diamond-shaped and
leaded panes of the Manor of Trevor Major on to the boskage of its
cool thickets, and the glimmering of its clear chalk streams where
the quick trout glance among the waving water-weeds and over the
chalk and gravel of its sliding rapids.
It was the news of these trout that led Jack Singleton and myself
to take the house for the month between mid-May and mid-June, but as
I have already mentioned a short three weeks was all the time we
passed there, and we had more than a week of our tenancy yet
unexpired when we left the place, though on the very last afternoon
we enjoyed the finest dry-fly fishing that has ever fallen to my lot.
Singleton had originally seen the advertisement of the house in a
Sussex paper, with the statement that there was good dry-fly fishing
belonging to it, but it was with but faint hopes of the reality of
the dry-fly fishing that we went down to look at the place, since we
had before this so often inspected depopulated ditches which were
offered to the unwary under high-sounding titles. Yet after a
half-hour's stroll by the stream, we went straight back to the agent,
and before nightfall had taken it for a month with option of
We arrived accordingly from town at about five o'clock on a
cloudless afternoon in May, and through the mists of horror that now
stand between me and the remembrance of what occurred later, I cannot
forget the exquisite loveliness of the impression then conveyed. The
garden, it is true, appeared to have been for years untended; weeds
half-choked the gravel paths, and the flower-beds were a congestion
of mingled wild and cultivated vegetations. It was set in a wall of
mellowed brick, in which snap-dragon and stone-crop had found an
anchorage to their liking, and beyond that there stood sentinel a
ring of ancient pines in which the breeze made music as of a distant
sea. Outside that the ground sloped slightly downwards in a bank
covered with a jungle of wild-rose to the stream that ran round three
sides of the garden, and then followed a meandering course through
the two big fields which lay towards the village. Over all this we
had fishing-rights; above, the same rights extended for another
quarter of a mile to the arched bridge over which there crossed the
road which led to the house. In this field above the house on the
fourth side, where the ground had been embanked to carry the road,
stood a brick-kiln in a ruinous state. A shallow pit, long overgrown
with tall grasses and wild field-flowers, showed where the clay had
The house itself was long and narrow; entering, you passed direct
into a square panelled hall, on the left of which was the dining-room
which communicated with the passage leading to the kitchen and
offices. On the right of the hall were two excellent sitting-rooms
looking out, the one on to the gravel in front of the house, the
other on to the garden. From the first of these you could see,
through the gap in the pines by which the road approached the house,
the brick-kiln of which I have already spoken. An oak staircase went
up from the hall, and round it ran a gallery on to which the three
principal bedrooms opened. These were commensurate with the
dining-room and the two sitting-rooms below. From this gallery there
led a long narrow passage shut off from the rest of the house by a
red-baize door, which led to a couple more guest-rooms and the
Jack Singleton and I share the same flat in town, and we had sent
down in the morning Franklyn and his wife, two old and valued
servants, to get things ready at Trevor Major, and procure help from
the village to look after the house, and Mrs. Franklyn, with her
stout comfortable face all wreathed in smiles, opened the door to us.
She had had some previous experience of the "comfortable quarters"
which go with fishing, and had come down prepared for the worst, but
found it all of the best. The kitchen-boiler was not furred; hot and
cold water was laid on in the most convenient fashion, and could be
obtained from taps that neither stuck nor leaked. Her husband, it
appeared, had gone into the village to buy a few necessaries, and she
brought up tea for us, and then went upstairs to the two rooms over
the dining-room and bigger sitting-room, which we had chosen for our
bedrooms, to unpack. The doors of these were exactly opposite one
another to right and left of the gallery, and Jack, who chose the
bedroom above the sitting-room, had thus a smaller room, above the
second sitting-room, unoccupied, next his and opening out from
We had a couple of hours' fishing before dinner, each of us
catching three or four brace of trout, and came back in the dusk to
the house. Franklyn had returned from the village from his errand,
reported that he had got a woman to come in to do housework in the
mornings, and mentioned that our arrival had seemed to arouse a good
deal of interest. The reason for this was obscure; he could only tell
us that he was questioned a dozen times as to whether we really
intended to live in the house, and his assurance that we did produced
silence and a shaking of heads. But the country-folk of Sussex are
notable for their silence and chronic attitude of disapproval, and we
put this down to local idiosyncrasy.
The evening was exquisitely warm, and after dinner we pulled out a
couple of basket-chairs on to the gravel by the front door, and sat
for an hour or so, while the night deepened in throbs of gathering
darkness. The moon was not risen and the ring of pines cut off much
of the pale starlight, so that when we went in, allured by the
shining of the lamp in the sitting-room, it was curiously dark for a
clear night in May. And at that moment of stepping from the darkness
into the cheerfulness of the lighted house, I had a sudden sensation,
to which, during the next fortnight, I became almost accustomed, of
there being something unseen and unheard and dreadful near me. In
spite of the warmth, I felt myself shiver, and concluded instantly
that I had sat out-of-doors long enough, and without mentioning it to
Jack, followed him into the smaller sitting-room in which we had
scarcely yet set foot. It, like the hall, was oak-panelled, and in
the panels hung some half-dozen of water-colour sketches, which we
examined, idly at first, and then with growing interest, for they
were executed with extraordinary finish and delicacy, and each
represented some aspect of the house or garden. Here you looked up
the gap in the fir-trees into a crimson sunset; here the garden, trim
and carefully tended, dozed beneath some languid summer noon; here an
angry wreath of storm-cloud brooded over the meadow where the
trout-stream ran grey and leaden below a threatening sky, while
another, the most careful and arresting of all, was a study of the
brick-kiln. In this, alone of them all, was there a human figure; a
man, dressed in grey, peered into the open door from which issued a
fierce red glow. The figure was painted with miniature-like
elaboration; the face was in profile, and represented a youngish man,
clean-shaven, with a long aquiline nose and singularly square chin.
The sketch was long and narrow in shape, and the chimney of the kiln
appeared against a dark sky. From it there issued a thin stream of
Jack looked at this with attention.
"What a horrible picture!" he said, "and how beautifully painted!
I feel as if it meant something, as if it was a representation of
something that happened, not a mere sketch. By Jove!--"
He broke off suddenly and went in turn to each of the other
"That's a queer thing," he said. "See if you notice what I
With the brick-kiln rather vividly impressed on my mind, it was
not difficult to see what he had noticed. In each of the pictures
appeared the brick-kiln, chimney and all, now seen faintly between
trees, now in full view, and in each the chimney was smoking.
"And the odd part is that from the garden side, you can't really
see the kiln at all," observed Jack, "it's hidden by the house, and
yet the artist F. A., as I see by his signature, puts it in just the
"What do you make of that?" I asked.
"Nothing. I suppose he had a fancy for brick-kilns. Let's have a
game of picquet."
A fortnight of our three weeks passed without incident, except
that again and again the curious feeling of something dreadful being
close at hand was present in my mind. In a way, as I said, I got used
to it, but on the other hand the feeling itself seemed to gain in
poignancy. Once just at the end of the fortnight I mentioned it to
"Odd you should speak of it," he said, "because I've felt the
same. When do you feel it? Do you feel it now, for instance?"
We were again sitting out after dinner, and as he spoke I felt it
with far greater intensity than ever before. And at the same moment
the house-door which had been closed, though probably not latched,
swung gently open, letting out a shaft of light from the hall, and as
gently swung to again, as if something had stealthily entered.
"Yes," I said. "I felt it then. I only feel it in the evening. It
was rather bad that time."
Jack was silent a moment.
"Funny thing the door opening and shutting like that," he said.
"Let's go indoors."
We got up and I remember seeing at that moment that the windows of
my bedroom were lit; Mrs. Franklyn probably was making things ready
for the night. Simultaneously, as we crossed the gravel, there came
from just inside the house the sound of a hurried footstep on the
stairs, and entering we found Mrs. Franklyn in the hall, looking
rather white and startled.
"Anything wrong?" I asked.
She took two or three quick breaths before she answered:
"No, sir," she said, "at least nothing that I can give an account
of. I was tidying up in your room, and I thought you came in. But
there was nobody, and it gave me a turn. I left my candle there; I
must go up for it."
I waited in the hall a moment, while she again ascended the
stairs, and passed along the gallery to my room. At the door, which I
could see was open, she paused, not entering.
"What is the matter?" I asked from below.
"I left the candle alight," she said, "and it's gone out." Jack
"And you left the door and window open," said he.
"Yes, sir, but not a breath of wind is stirring," said Mrs.
Franklyn, rather faintly.
This was true, and yet a few moments ago the heavy hall-door had
swung open and back again. Jack ran upstairs.
"We'll brave the dark together, Mrs. Franklyn," he said.
He went into my room, and I heard the sound of a match struck.
Then through the open door came the light of the rekindled candle and
simultaneously I heard a bell ring in the servants' quarters. In a
moment came steps, and Franklyn appeared.
"What bell was that?" I asked.
"Mr. Jack's bedroom, sir," he said.
I felt there was a marked atmosphere of nerves about for which
there was really no adequate cause. All that had happened of a
disturbing nature was that Mrs. Franklyn had thought I had come into
my bedroom, and had been startled by finding I had not. She had then
left the candle in a draught, and it had been blown out. As for a
bell ringing, that, even if it had happened, was a very innocuous
"Mouse on a wire," I said. "Mr. Jack is in my room this moment
lighting Mrs. Franklyn's candle for her."
Jack came down at this juncture, and we went into the
sitting-room. But Franklyn apparently was not satisfied, for we heard
him in the room above us, which was Jack's bedroom, moving about with
his slow and rather ponderous tread. Then his steps seemed to pass
into the bedroom adjoining and we heard no more.
I remember feeling hugely sleepy that night, and went to bed
earlier than usual, to pass rather a broken night with stretches of
dreamless sleep interspersed with startled awakenings, in which I
passed very suddenly into complete consciousness. Sometimes the house
was absolutely still, and the only sound to be heard was the sighing
of the night breeze outside in the pines, but sometimes the place
seemed full of muffled movements and once I could have sworn that the
handle of my door turned. That required verification, and I lit my
candle, but found that my ears must have played me false. Yet even as
I stood there, I thought I heard steps just outside, and with a
considerable qualm, I must confess, I opened the door and looked out.
But the gallery was quite empty, and the house quite still. Then from
Jack's room opposite I heard a sound that was somehow comforting, the
snorts of the snorer, and I went back to bed and slept again, and
when next I woke, morning was already breaking in red lines on the
horizon, and the sense of trouble that had been with me ever since
last evening had gone.
Heavy rain set in after lunch next day, and as I had arrears of
letter-writing to do, and the water was soon both muddy and rising, I
came home alone about five, leaving Jack still sanguine by the
stream, and worked for a couple of hours sitting at a writing-table
in the room overlooking the gravel at the front of the house, where
hung the water-colours. By seven I had finished, and just as I got up
to light candles, since it was already dusk, I saw, as I thought,
Jack's figure emerge from the bushes that bordered the path to the
stream, on to the space in front of the house. Then instantaneously
and with a sudden queer sinking of the heart quite unaccountable, I
saw that it was not Jack at all, but a stranger. He was only some six
yards from the window, and after pausing there a moment he came close
up to the window, so that his face nearly touched the glass, looking
intently at me. In the light from the freshly-kindled candles I could
distinguish his features with great clearness, but though, as far as
I knew, I had never seen him before, there was something familiar
about both his face and figure. He appeared to smile at me, but the
smile was one of inscrutable evil and malevolence, and immediately he
walked on, straight towards the house door opposite him, and out of
sight of the sitting-room window.
Now, little though I liked the look of the man, he was, as I have
said, familiar to my eye, and I went out into the hall, since he was
clearly coming to the front door, to open it to him and learn his
business. So without waiting for him to ring, I opened it, feeling
sure I should find him on the step. Instead, I looked out into the
empty gravel-sweep, the heavy-falling rain, the thick dusk.
And even as I looked, I felt something that I could not see push
by me through the half-opened door and pass into the house. Then the
stairs creaked, and a moment after a bell rang.
Franklyn is the quickest man to answer a bell I have ever seen,
and next instant he passed me going upstairs. He tapped at Jack's
door, entered and then came down again.
"Mr. Jack still out, sir?" he asked.
"Yes. His bell ringing again?"
"Yes, sir," said Franklyn, quite imperturbably.
I went back into the sitting-room, and soon Franklyn brought a
lamp. He put it on the table above which hung the careful and curious
picture of the brick-kiln, and then with a sudden horror I saw why
the stranger on the gravel outside had been so familiar to me. In all
respects he resembled the figure that peered into the kiln; it was
more than a resemblance, it was an identity.
And what had happened to this man who had inscrutably and evilly
smiled at me? And what had pushed in through the half-closed
At that moment I saw the face of Fear; my mouth went dry, and I
heard my heart leaping and cracking in my throat. That face was only
turned on me for a moment, and then away again, but I knew it to be
the genuine thing; not apprehension, not foreboding, not a feeling of
being startled, but Fear, cold Fear. And then though nothing had
occurred to assuage the Fear, it passed, and a certain sort of reason
usurped--for so I must say--its place. I had certainly seen somebody
on the gravel outside the house; I had supposed he was going to the
front door. I had opened it, and found he had not come to the
front door. Or--and once again the terror resurged--had the invisible
pushing thing been that which I had seen outside? And if so, what was
it? And how came it that the face and figure of the man I had seen
were the same as those which were so scrupulously painted in the
picture of the brick-kiln?
I set myself to argue down the Fear for which there was no more
foundation than this, this and the repetition of the ringing bell,
and my belief is that I did so. I told myself, till I believed it,
that a man--a human man--had been walking across the gravel outside,
and that he had not come to the front door but had gone, as he might
easily have done, up the drive into the high-road.
I told myself that it was mere fancy that was the cause of the
belief that Something had pushed in by me, and as for the ringing of
the bell, I said to myself, as was true, that this had happened
before. And I must ask the reader to believe also that I argued these
things away, and looked no longer on the face of Fear itself. I was
not comfortable, but I fell short of being terrified.
I sat down again by the window looking on to the gravel in front
of the house, and finding another letter that asked, though it did
not demand, an answer, proceeded to occupy myself with it. Straight
in front led the drive through the gap in the pines, and passed
through the field where lay the brick-kiln. In a pause of
page-turning I looked up and saw something unusual about it; at the
same moment an unusual smell came to my nostril. What I saw was smoke
coming out of the chimney of the kiln, what I smelt was the odour of
roasting meat. The wind--such as there was--set from the kiln to the
house. But as far as I knew the smell of roast meat probably came
from the kitchen where dinner, so I supposed, was cooking. I had to
tell myself this: I wanted reassurance, lest the face of Fear should
look whitely on me again.
Then there came a crisp step on the gravel, a rattle at the
front door, and Jack came in.
"Good sport," he said, "you gave up too soon."
And he went straight to the table above which hung the picture of
the man at the brick-kiln, and looked at it. Then there was silence;
and eventually I spoke, for I wanted to know one thing.
"Seen anybody?" I asked.
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Because I have also; the man in that picture."
Jack came and sat down near me.
"It's a ghost, you know," he said. "He came down to the river
about dusk and stood near me for an hour. At first I thought he was
real--was real, and I warned him that he had better stand further off
if he didn't want to be hooked. And then it struck me he wasn't real,
and I cast, well, right through him, and about seven he walked up
towards the house."
"Were you frightened?"
"No. It was so tremendously interesting. So you saw him here too.
"Just outside. I think he is in the house now."
Jack looked round.
"Did you see him come in?" he asked.
"No, but I felt him. There's another queer thing too; the chimney
of the brick-kiln is smoking."
Jack looked out of the window. It was nearly dark, but the
wreathing smoke could just be seen.
"So it is," he said, "fat, greasy smoke. I think I'll go up and
see what's on. Come too?"
"I think not," I said.
"Are you frightened? It isn't worth while. Besides, it is so
Jack came back from his little expedition still interested. He had
found nothing stirring at the kiln, but though it was then nearly
dark the interior was faintly luminous, and against the black of the
sky he could see a wisp of thick white smoke floating northwards. But
for the rest of the evening we neither heard nor saw anything of
abnormal import, and the next day ran a course of undisturbed hours.
Then suddenly a hellish activity was manifested.
That night, while I was undressing for bed, I heard a bell ring
furiously, and I thought I heard a shout also. I guessed where the
ring came from, since Franklyn and his wife had long ago gone to bed,
and went straight to Jack's room. But as I tapped at the door I heard
his voice from inside calling loud to me. "Take care," it said, "he's
close to the door."
A sudden qualm of blank fear took hold of me, but mastering it as
best I could, I opened the door to enter, and once again something
pushed softly by me, though I saw nothing.
Jack was standing by his bed, half-un-- I saw him wipe his
forehead with the back of his hand.
"He's been here again," he said. "I was standing just here, a
minute ago, when I found him close by me. He came out of the inner
room, I think. Did you see what he had in his hand?"
"I saw nothing."
"It was a knife; a great long carving knife. Do you mind my
sleeping on the sofa in your room to-night? I got an awful turn then.
There was another thing too. All round the edge of his clothes, at
his collar and at his wrists, there were little flames playing,
little white licking flames." But next day, again, we neither heard
nor saw anything, nor that night did the sense of that dreadful
presence in the house come to us. And then came the last day. We had
been out till it was dark, and as I said, had a wonderful day among
the fish. On reaching home we sat together in the sitting-room, when
suddenly from overhead came a tread of feet, a violent pealing of the
bell, and the moment after yell after yell as of someone in mortal
agony. The thought occurred to both of us that this might be Mrs.
Franklyn in terror of some fearful sight, and together we rushed up
and sprang into Jack's bedroom.
The doorway into the room beyond was open, and just inside it we
saw the man bending over some dark huddled object. Though the room
was dark we could see him perfectly, for a light stale and impure
seemed to come from him. He had again a long knife in his hand, and
as we entered he was wiping it on the mass that lay at his feet. Then
he took it up, and we saw what it was, a woman with head nearly
severed. But it was not Mrs. Franklyn.
And then the whole thing vanished, and we were standing looking
into a dark and empty room. We went downstairs without a word, and it
was not till we were both in the sitting-room below that Jack
"And he takes her to the brick-kiln," he said rather
"I say, have you had enough of this house? I have. There is hell
About a week later Jack put into my hand a guide-book to Sussex
open at the description of Trevor Major, and I read:
"Just outside the village stands the picturesque manor house, once
the home of the artist and notorious murderer, Francis Adam. It was
here he killed his wife, in a fit, it is believed, of groundless
jealousy, cutting her throat and disposing of her remains by burning
them in a brick-kiln."
"Certain charred fragments found six months afterwards led to his
arrest and execution."
So I prefer to leave the house with the brick-kiln and the
pictures signed F. A. to others.